Aaron Chy, BSc General, PharmD Student
Ever have one of those days where you just don’t get a chance to eat? Maybe you were running late that morning and missed breakfast only to show up to work and realize you forgot your lunch. If you have, then all of this will probably sound familiar: the difficulties of focusing, the impatience, and the overall tendency to just snap at the smallest thing. It’s not a good time. Fast forward to the end of the day when you’re out ordering food, and it feels like everyone else is getting their order before you. You are probably just seconds from losing your mind.
As it turns out, it’s not just you, and there’s a legitimate reason as to why you’re just not you when you’re hungry.
Don’t worry, it happens to us all.
You may have heard the word “hangry” before to jokingly describe someone’s not-so-great emotional state as a result of not having enough food to eat. The truth is though that sometimes it’s not so funny, and we can get pretty upset if we’ve missed a meal.
So how does our stomach affect the way we think? The brain is unique in that it can only use glucose as it’s primary source of fuel, unlike our muscles and most organs that can break down fat stores for energy. As blood sugar drops with periods of fasting, the brain becomes less and less active when performing basic tasks.1
What about our emotional state? One likely theory is that the change in our body’s hormones after fasting has a negative effect on our mood. When we’re hungry, our body releases a hormone called Ghrelin – also known as the “hungry” hormone. Ghrelin creates the drive to go and seek out food, and elevated levels in the body can lead to impulsive and irrational decision making. More specifically, it can lead you to make snap-decisions if it means getting food immediately.2 If you’ve ever made the mistake of shopping for groceries on an empty stomach, this is probably making a lot of sense right now.
One other study brought in several married couples and gave them the ability to inflict a symbolic or an actual harm on their spouse. In the first half of the study, spouses were given a set of pins and a voodoo doll that they were told represented their partner. In the second half, spouses were given a button that sent an unpleasant blast of sound through headphones worn by their partner. Sounds crazy? The findings clearly showed that individuals were more likely to lash out at their partner when their blood sugar was low. Individuals who were hungry stuck more pins into their voodoo dolls and delivered louder and longer sound-blasts to their partners.3
How can I use this information?
The solution is simple; we’re living in a society that’s constantly pushing for longer work hours and shorter breaks. It’s slowly become the norm to work eight- to ten-hour days, sometimes without a break, and many individuals choose to go without eating in order to finish their work on time. At the end of the day, you’re more important than your work, and you should always make an effort to give yourself the time to have a meal. We hope this piece spread the knowledge that making sure you eat regularly isn’t just good for your mind and body, but helps you function better as well.
We hope you learned something new today, we’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. A regular routine of exercise and a healthy, balanced diet can do so much for your mental and physical health. Consult a healthcare professional if you’re curious about making these life changes, and feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org at any time!
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- Anderberg, R. )., Hansson, C. )., Fenander, M. )., Richard, J. )., Skibicka, K. )., Dickson, S. )., & … Bergquist, F. ). (2016). The Stomach-Derived Hormone Ghrelin Increases Impulsive Behavior. Neuropsychopharmacology, 41(5), 1199-1209. doi:10.1038/npp.2015.297
- Brad J., B., C. Nathan, D., Richard S. Pond, J., & Michael D., H. (2014). Low glucose relates to greater aggression in married couples. Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences Of The United States Of America, (17), 6254.